Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Barry Lamar Bonds – should he go to jail?

Monday was an interesting day in the life and times of Michael Vick. The former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons spent Monday evening at Northern Neck Regional Jail just outside of Richmond Virginia, and began the sentence he’ll receive on December 10 after pleading guilty to dog fighting conspiracy charges last month. Vick’s rationale was simple – whatever days he spends in jail before his December 10 sentencing will count towards the numbers of days he’s sentenced to. Michael Vick wants to play football again, he wants to pay his ‘debt to society’ and get back to the life he lived. It remains to be seen if Michael Vick will be given that second chance and have an opportunity to start his life over again. The Michael Vick story will reach its conclusion in the coming months, certainly the next – what happens next in the Barry Lamar Bonds saga is an entirely different story.

Thursday evening Bonds was indicated on charges he had lied before a Federal Grand Jury in December 2003. He hadn’t lied once; he had lied 19 different times. The question is can you send someone to jail for lying? The simple answer is yes, the practical answer is far more complex.

"There is not a minute that goes by that some federal agent or federal prosecutor or law enforcement figure somewhere is not being lied to by someone," said Jean Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who teaches law at the University of Southern California in an Associated Press report

"What the government tends to do is not prosecute perjury unless it's a high-profile case," Rosenbluth said. "You can send the message out worldwide saying, 'Do not lie to us.' Barry Bonds is a perfect example."

"This is the latest in a long litany of America's near-obsession with the troublesome black athlete. Whether it's Terrell Owens, Michael Vick or now Barry Bonds, black athletes who don't toe the line are going to be held accountable," said Steven Millner, chairman of the African American Studies Department at San Jose State University.

It remains to be seen what tact Barry Bonds’ lawyers will take, but ESPN legal expert Lester Munson doesn’t expect Barry Bonds to do what Michael Vick did-- plead guilty. The well respected Munson fully expects Barry Bonds to have his day in court.

“He has been defiant in the face of a massive investigation. His answers to questions asked before the grand jury show an attitude of righteous indignation. He has enormous wealth and is able to battle federal prosecutors, the FBI and the IRS. Expect him to fight the charges to the end and hope for favorable treatment from jurors in San Francisco, where he remains a hero for many.”

Barry’s days as a hero might have come and gone, but it does appear Bonds’ legal team is getting ready to fight the battle along the lines Barry expects them to, an in-your-face defense, full pedal to the medal.
"Barry got up on the stand and did his best to answer questions and to answer them truthfully," Bonds' lawyer, Michael Rains told The San Jose Mercury News. "He told them like it is."

"Everybody has an opinion about Barry. A lot of people love and respect him and a lot of people dislike him. He understands that," Rains told The San Jose Mercury. "Whether you like him or dislike him, the way the federal government has proceeded in this case is going to be a very, very sad commentary on the enormous power of the government to ruin people's lives and to scar their reputation for no good reason."

The trail of Grand Juries that failed to indict Barry Bonds has been well documented. All told, according to an ESPN report the Federal Government has already spent $6 million to prosecute Barry Bonds. That’s $6 million and the trial has yet to begin. It’s conceivable that by the time Barry Bonds trial ends, the cost to American taxpayers could exceed $10 million. Does it make sense to make an example of Barry Bonds by spending $10 million to prove if he lied 19 times during a December 2003 Grand Jury hearing into BALCO?

Lets be clear about this point, it wasn’t illegal to use steroids in the United States of America until 2004 (it was illegal to sell them). And Major League Baseball didn’t have a comprehensive testing policy that dealt with performance-enhancing drugs until 2004. Barry didn’t break any laws if he used steroids before the 2004 baseball season. As for rules of baseball, the allegations Bonds is facing if proven true would certainly paint Barry Bonds as being unethical, but again he broke the rules of baseball that didn’t exist at the time. Those rules exist today, but they weren’t in place when Bonds is alleged to have used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

And putting an asterisk beside Bonds’ name in baseball’s record book, let’s stick one beside Babe Ruth at the same time. He played in an era when African-Americans weren’t allowed to play Major League Baseball.

And is Barry Bonds the first athlete to face federal charges, is he the first to allegedly have stepped astray of the law during his athletic career. Gander this “partial” list from ESPN. How many episodes could the writers of Law and Order create from this list of sports ‘luminaries’?

Marion Jones: The three-time Olympic gold-medal winner pleaded guilty in October 2007 to lying to federal investigators in 2003 when she denied using banned drugs. She also pleaded guilty to a second count of lying to investigators about her association with a check-fraud scheme. She announced her retirement, and returned five medals she had won in the Sydney Games. She is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Tim Donaghy: Former NBA referee admitted to gambling on games he officiated. He pleaded guilty to felonies -- conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit gambling information across state lines -- for taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on games he officiated. He has been free on $250,000 bond and is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Sean Jones: Former NFL defensive lineman was indicted June 14, 2007, and pleaded not guilty to bank fraud charges alleging he and four others ran a scheme to pocket portions of more than $42 million in mortgage loans. The trial date is Aug. 6.

Michael Sherrod Hall: Samford University football player was arrested in June on federal bank robbery charges for allegedly holding up a bank in Hoover, Ala.

Gustavo "Gus" Dominguez: Former sports agent was indicted Oct. 31, 2006, on charges of conspiring to smuggle prospective major league baseball players from Cuba into the U.S. for profit. He was convicted in April 2007 and sentenced to five years in prison.

Henry James: Former NBA player was charged in September 2006 and sentenced in May to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to distributing a controlled substance.

Lonny Baxter: Former NBA player was arrested by Secret Service agents in August 2006 after shots were fired from a vehicle about two blocks from the White House. He served a two-month jail sentence.

Steve Riddick: Former Olympic sprinter and coach was indicted in 2006 and awaits sentencing after being convicted in U.S. District Court in Manhattan of conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering in a scheme with others to steal money from banks by cashing counterfeit checks.

Tim Montgomery: Olympic gold medalist, who is coached by Riddick, was indicted in April 2006 and pleaded guilty in the conspiracy to cash $5 million in counterfeit checks. Montgomery is to be sentenced Dec. 12.

Pete Rose Jr.: Baseball player and son of Pete Rose was indicted in November 2005 and pleaded guilty to distributing GBL, sold under the counter at retailers as a sports performance enhancer as well as a sedative. Rose Jr. served a month in federal prison.

Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd: Indicted in November 2005 for threatening a former girlfriend and her son. The charges were later dismissed.

Jamal Lewis: NFL running back was indicted in February 2004 and faced a possible 10-year sentence if convicted of cocaine conspiracy charges. He served four months after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of using a phone to make a drug deal. He was suspended for two games, and was out of prison in time to play 15 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2005.

Bam Morris: Former NFL running back pleaded guilty in August 2000 to two federal marijuana distribution charges. Morris, the leading rusher in Super Bowl XXX for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997, served 30 months in federal prison.

Tony Martin: Former Miami Dolphins wide receiver was indicted on five counts in 1999 related to laundering drug money. He was found not guilty.

Eddie DeBartolo: Former San Francisco 49ers owner was indicted in a federal corruption case against former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in 1998 in return for his testimony against Edwards. DeBartolo was fined and had to surrender control of the team to his sister in 2000.

Don King: Boxing promoter who, in 1998, was acquitted by a federal jury of nine counts of wire fraud, the second time he was tried on charges of attempting to defraud Lloyd's of London insurance syndicate out of $350,000 following cancellation of a boxing match involving Julio Cesar Chavez.

Northwestern University student-athletes (football and basketball players): Indicted in 1998 for point-shaving during 1994 and 1995. Eleven people, including eight student-athletes, were charged and convicted.

Darryl Henley: Former Los Angeles Rams cornerback was indicted in 1993 and convicted in 1995 of drug trafficking. He is in federal prison in Marion, Ill.

Sammy Smith: Former Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos running back was indicted in 1995. Smith pleaded guilty in 1996 to two charges of possession and distribution of cocaine. He was sentenced to seven years.

Mike Danton: Former pro hockey player pleaded guilty in July 2004 to attempting to hire a hit man to kill his agent, David Frost. Danton was sentenced to 7½ years.

Eric Moore and Mark Duckens: Former New York Giants offensive lineman and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end were both hit with charges of possession of anabolic steroids and conspiracy to distribute in 1992. Moore pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, drew three years of probation, served a four-game suspension and played out the 1993 season with the Giants. Duckens' career ended after the Bucs released him following a plea to lesser charges.

Pete Rose: Major League Baseball's all-time hits king served time in a federal prison camp in 1990 after pleading guilty to charges of filing false income tax returns.

Mike Bell: Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end was indicted in 1985 and convicted in 1986 on two counts of using a telephone to arrange a cocaine sale. He served a four-month sentence.

Pittsburgh drug trials: Several Pittsburgh Pirates -- Dale Berra, Lee Lacy, Lee Mazzilli, John Milner, Dave Parker and Rod Scurry -- and other major league baseball players, including Willie Aikens, Vida Blue, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeffrey Leonard, Tim Raines and Lonnie Smith, were granted immunity to testify in a federal drug case in 1985. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended some players; others were required to perform community service.

Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, Vida Blue and Jerry Martin: Former Kansas City Royals players pleaded guilty in 1983 to federal misdemeanor drug charges for attempting to buy cocaine, and served 81 days in prison. Aikens since has been convicted of additional drug-related charges and remains in federal prison in Atlanta.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner: Steinbrenner was indicted for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign in 1974, was found guilty, fined and suspended for two years. President Ronald Reagan pardoned him in January 1989.

BALCO-related figures

Victor Conte: The founder of BALCO served four months after pleading to one count of conspiracy to distribute steroids and a second count of laundering a portion of a check.

Patrick Arnold: Chemist who created designer steroids that were at the heart of the BALCO scandal served three months in federal prison.

Troy Ellerman: Lawyer, who at one point represented Victor Conte in the BALCO scandal, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for leaking secret grand jury testimony to San Francisco Chronicle reporters.

Remi Korchemny: Track coach ensnarled in the BALCO scandal received probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

Trevor Graham: Rival track coach and whistle-blower in the BALCO scandal has been indicted for lying to federal agents. His trial had been scheduled to begin Nov. 26, but earlier this week a judge granted a request by two of his defense lawyers to be removed from his case. That development is expected to delay the start of his trial.

Tammy Thomas: Former elite cyclist pleaded not guilty to lying to a federal grand jury investigating the BALCO scandal.

Greg Anderson: Former trainer to baseball star Barry Bonds, Anderson served a four-month sentence for his role in the BALCO scandal. Anderson had been jailed since August for contempt of court for failure to cooperate in the federal government's perjury case against Bonds. On Thursday, a federal judge ordered his release from prison.

The media loves pointing out that Barry could face as many has 30 years in jail. ESPN’s Munson cleared up that misconception.

“Bonds has a clean record. His only problems in court have been divorces. If he is convicted of all of the charges, he would face a year or two in federal prison. The law provides for a sentence of as long as 30 years, but it will never happen. The federal guidelines and the record of past sentences indicate only a year or two of incarceration.”

Barry Bonds is society’s true anti-hero. He’s everything Cal Ripken never was. It’s so easy to not like Barry Bonds; you can almost count on court of public opinion counting down the days until Barry is behind bars. But before anyone gets too excited, just consider what other athletes have done and how much money has been spent on proving what everyone has long known about Barry Bonds – he is a bad person, who may have lied. Is Barry Bonds even worth our time anymore?

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN and the San Jose Mercury News

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